In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW), I felt it very appropriate to dedicate this week’s column to the steps that have been made on UNC’s campus to address eating disorders and negative body images. As a group fitness instructor, I can attest to the fact that Campus Recreation at UNC takes this very seriously and saw NEDAW as a great opportunity to launch their Beautiful Body Campaign.

The Beautiful Body Campaign’s main purpose is to promote self-acceptance, confidence, and holistic views of health. As you enter the Student Recreation Center (SRC) on campus, you will see posters of students in the windows commenting on how they “feel,” or why they’re “strong,” etc. It’s a type of mindset really. The pictures are meant to trigger an emotion of determination and persistence about becoming healthy, not “skinny.”

There were several events that included Joseph Nontanovan from Step Up visiting the SRC and teaching a class, Eating For Exercise: The Recipe for Fitness, and Mirrorless Tuesday. I was lucky enough to participate in Mirrorless Tuesday, because I teach my Muscle Cut class that same day. When I entered the studio, there were bright colored cloths on the front mirrors (the side mirrors open for safety of course). There was a table full of sticky notes and participants were encouraged to write a message about what they love about their body, how exercise makes them strong and helps their life, anything positive really. The theme with Mirrorless Tuesday was, “It’s not about how you look, it’s about how you feel.” The participants loved it and I read the sweetest messages after my class was over. Here were some of my favorites:

“Muscle Cut makes me strong INSIDE and OUT!”

“You are Beautiful!”

“I’m here to get strong and stay fit! #lovemybody

As you can see the emphasis was on strength, and at the end of the day that’s what it all comes down to!

As instructors, positive language is something we must constantly be conscious of. I always tell participants to look in the mirror and see how strong they look. How we speak in front of a class affects all our participants, so the emphasis is present for us to be role models in this campus campaign and movement.

The next initiative that is near and dear to our hearts as instructors is Embody Carolina, founded by the lovely Miss UNC, Zumba, Absolution instructor, you name it-she does it, Colleen Daly! Embody Carolina is something that any student can be trained in. You learn how to identify students that may be struggling with an eating disorder, and ways to approach them to seek council. Embody Carolina’s mission and description is below:

Embody Carolina is a new campus initiative that aims to educate students about identifying and supporting someone struggling with an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect around 10-20% of college women, and 4-10% of college men. Even higher percentages of students struggle with negative body image, disordered eating, and low self-esteem. These disorders and issues are not only potentially physically destructive, but are emotionally and mentally exhausting, detracting from students’ abilities to pursue their true interests.

Embody recognizes that there is no replacement for professional treatment of disorders and in no way seeks to do so. The four-hour, student led training program is meant to help students identify the signs of struggle, learn to approach friends with sensitivity and compassion, seek out professional help in the community, and serve as allies in the recovery process. The program also aims to dispel common myths about eating disorders and inform students about the dangers and realities of these disorders. 

If anyone is interested in learning more about Embody Carolina, I would encourage you to visit the website for more information.

The last bit about NEDAW at UNC Campus Rec that was special was the cool down song that was played in every class (that’s over 90 classes), so if you frequent group fitness classes, I’m sure you know the song by heart now. The song is called “Soul Within.” It is an A capella mashup composed by Sam Barge and performed by the Achordants, Loreleis, THV, and Cadence. This was a very special song that spoke to one’s inner beauty being what really matters. You can listen to it here.

NEDAW had a huge presence on social media this week. I saw postings that were in no relation at all to UNC. The reason? It’s an important issue that needs to be addressed. No one should have to feel down about their body for any reason. The more we speak out about it, the more society will understand the importance of body images and the seriousness of eating disorders. Embody UNC or on Twitter @EmbodyUNC, was using the hashtag #lovemybody for people to tweet positive messages throughout the week. I loved this social media movement for positive body images and hope that this is something that stays longer than just one week!

Speaking of positive body images, Spring Break is less than two weeks away and everyone is frantically running to the gym to get some extra cardio in. My request is that you just stop for a moment and think about how silly that is. Yes, some of you may be going on a cruise or going to the beach for the week, but honestly-you look beautiful the way you are! Stop worrying and go enjoy the week with your friends. Will your friends or family love you any more if you lose one or two extra pounds? The answer is NO! Everything in our lives is stressful and hectic, why should fitness be? Exercise should be your “Me Time,” you should be at the gym to get healthy and fit, not skinny, and when you look in the mirror you should see strength and beauty.

As promised, your quote of the week: “Be in love with YOUR life, every minute of it.”

Sarah is a junior at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, pursuing a career in sports business or the fitness industry. A group fitness instructor of Muscle Cut at UNC, she ran her first half-marathon last November and is training for her second in April! You can follow Sarah on twitter @SarahPell14.